My dad recently gifted my son with an old jon boat--nothing fancy-- gunmetal grey with oars that clamp on the edge, motor-worthy when he's old enough, but for now, just muscle power to putter around in the cove. Andrew was ecstatic and couldn't wait to be afloat in his brand-new vessel for the first time yesterday.
Once there, however, he was scared. The boat felt unstable to him. It rocked and tilted as the small swells drifted into our cove from the main channel. The novelty wore off quickly. He realized it was hard work, and in the hot sun, he quickly wished he were bobbing in the cool water himself. But he couldn't get out--there was no one to help him out at the dock. Everyone was either in the water or otherwise occupied, so I suggested to him that he just jump in from the jon boat.
To your average almost ten year-old, maybe that would have solved the problem, but Andrew froze, uncertain of his balance already and unable to take the leap, small though it was. So there he sat, one leg swung over the side of the boat, one leg firmly inside, while the rest of us grew more and more frustrated over his inability to stop thinking about it and just jump.
It was clear that the idea of what could happen was worse than what actually would happen. His fear, insecurity, and lack of confidence in himself paralyzed him, even though he knew logically that he was inches from the surface with a life jacket on and capable adults by his side. The more he thought, though, the harder it became, and he went nowhere.
Today, as we took the pontoon out for a brief excursion, we headed to the marina to fuel up. Normally, we have a full boat and someone is at the ready to hop off and "catch" the boat and tie us off. But with just the three of us, the options were few. I'm not the steadiest on my feet sometimes. I can trip and fall over nothing, and with a tricky hip that isn't always reliable, I don't tend to put myself into physically precarious positions. Today, however, without thinking, I stepped agilely off of the still-moving boat and onto the gas dock, nimbly skirting pilings and line as well as the widening expanse of water between the bow of the boat and the slightly higher dock. And without a thought, until afterwards, when I realized with amazement what I had done. I know, I know...it's not bungee jumping or skydiving, but trust me when I say that it was a big deal for me.
Different situations, but equally challenging in their own way. Why was mine easier? Because I just DID. No thought, just action, while he was locked in a position of neither forward nor backward, looking for a solution that wasn't there. I know the panic he felt trying to get out of the boat. The situation was wobbly and uncertain, and he was terrified of someone letting him down and of the idea of getting hurt. He did eventually succumb to the pressure and slid off effortlessly into the water. And the look of surprise on his face when nothing bad happened was exactly what I felt when I hopped onto the dock like it was my job.
I've done a lot of changing and growing in that past two years, all of it for the better. I"m a stronger, more confident person in a lot of ways, and I prove to myself on a daily basis that I can handle whatever life throws at me, even if it doesn't feel like it at the time. He thought too much, I didn't think at all, and we both made it through. He was embarrassed though, and showed his ass a little as he was panicking, and I can relate to that as well. The desperation of trying to hold on to something you've placed your trust in as it slips away is strong, and people do and say dumb things when they're scared and lost, me included. The lesson here? Turn off your brain, trust yourself first, and just let go.